(or, “Getting Into Each Other’s Poop-Scooping Shoes”)
The following is part of a speech delivered at the 2004 Conference for the Animals in Frankfort by Victoria King, President of Holly’s Place and founder of the KY Animal Rescue Alliance:
Not long before KCAP held the Barren River Conference in 2000, I started the KY Animal Rescue Alliance list serv. The driving force behind this was to confront what I was seeing and hearing from other shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups. I was seeing groups acting as competition at places like Petsmart, when I had expected something more like camaraderie. And I was hearing individual rescue people from shelters and groups, (and some in counties without a shelter or humane group), express the need for support from others in the animal welfare community. Some didn’t know how to fundraise or write grants, how to utilize the web in finding adoptive homes, or how to go about getting free food and litter. And they were reporting to me that when they turned to other groups with questions, they often met with a brush off at best and resistance at worst. It was clear that many groups were unwilling to share their valuable information, and this seemed ludicrous to me. Because, to be a competition, someone has to win and someone has to lose. And when animals are fed and adopted, we all win. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we should all be thankful for any adoption from any group because it is one more animal in KY who won’t die that week. And if we aren’t getting the funds, the supplies, the adoptions we need, then we should be able to look for help, support, answers from other groups who are getting these things, right?
So, I hoped that a listserv whose goal was communication, cooperation, and sharing would attract other rescuers who felt the way I did. And it has. Over a hundred. And, with Pam Rogers, we’ve also built a website that acts as a support to the KY Animal Rescue Alliance list-4Kypets.org (nowwww.kyawa.org) -which is a sort of clearing house for information statewide. Thus far it has primarily been used in such a way that information regarding animal welfare issues are posted to the web immediately. We are constantly reworking the website and the goals for it. But it became a reality just prior to the rally in 2003. As soon as decisions were made on laws, the website reflected it. People do not have to be members of the listserv in order to access animal welfare news and updates, but the listserv and the website do complement each other.
The KY Animal Rescue Alliance listserv has come in handy getting important information out immediately. It was invaluable during the Henry County mess in 2002, and has been helpful for Bullitt and other counties who are just now starting groups. With one single email to one single email address, over a hundred rescuers are notified of important animal welfare issues. People from the list have volunteered information, supplies, and manhours to these other new groups who are just getting started in counties that have very little for the animals. Just a few years ago it was fairly common for, not only the general public in a given community to be unaware of the existence of many rescue groups, but fellow rescuers to be unaware as well. To say the least, we were duplicating efforts with twice the manpower, money and time, but withOUT twice the results-reinventing the wheel, so to speak. Not only that, but we were missing one of the great opportunities at free PR-coming from each other. I can’t even give you a number of people I have referred to Woodstock in Lexington for low-cost spay neuter, or the number of people who have come to Holly’s Place through the local animal shelter. And they are not the only ones. Other groups refer adopters to me if they are looking for certain breeds like chows, rotties, and pits. And I, in turn, refer others to them. Just fellow-rescuers knowing who is out there doing what eventually results in good PR for all of us and our programs. It’s just one more of the many ways we can help each other and the animals if we act more as a united front. Kyawa.org, KY Animal Rescue Alliance, and KCAP should and do work well together toward this end. Ideally, this extends to county shelters, humane societies, rescue groups, and rescue individuals. I think the alliance is working; it is growing, and I am seeing more and more communication and cooperation between groups.
And of course, alliances really need to start in your own immediate community. I think that my county is a great example of strong alliances and cooperation, as well as being an example of doing a heck of a lot with very little. I’d like to sort of outline for you all how things work in Anderson county, as a sort of example of alliance building. And to do this, I’m going to be very honest about my own learning experiences over the last couple of years. Of course, each county and each state have completely different ways of operating, so there is no magic formula. And there will always be stops, starts, & sputters along the way.
But-Anderson county is lucky that 1) we do have a county shelter, an actual facility with operating hours. 2) we have a Humane Society that has been in place for over 20 years 3) these two entities get along well enough to share the same physical space and the same volunteers. 4) we have at least two other incorporated rescue groups in the county, including Holly’s Place and Home At Last, and rumors of others starting. But having four groups in one county doesn’t necessarily mean that more animals will be rescued, especially if we are not communicating and cooperating. Thankfully, for the most part, we are. Not only that, but the shelter, the humane society, and Holly’s Place actually share information and resources. We communicate by phone several days a week, and we are in and out of each other’s “offices,” for lack of a better word, on a weekly basis. And this did not occur as some sort of miracle, which is what my friends from other rescue groups all over the state like to call it. They say, “you have keys to each other’s places?” YUP! Sure do.
As I said, no miracle. And there is not a simple explanation, like, we do things the same way and so of course we get along…. Because we don’t do things the same way at all. And we can’t. The shelter has to accept everything that walks through that door. Holly’s Place does not. They have to keep animals quarantined and in kennels and cages, and Holly’s Place does not generally have to do this. They have to euthanize an animal that will cost $500 to get medical attention-Holly’s Place has a choice.
And it might not have worked so well if any of us had become indignant or self-righteous over some decision somewhere along the line. What happened was this:
Holly’s Place set up shop, called the shelter, said, “here I am.” And the shelter said “welcome.” And we visited each other’s places and asked some questions and started helping each other out. I get pictures of their animals and ours, and we share a website. (Years later, we do not share a website, not because of any issues between us – but because they now have a volunteer who built and can maintain their own website.) They helped Holly’s Place out when we had no food, litter, or appropriate fencing. We share volunteers on adoption days from time to time, and we share an entire education program. (Again, this has changed, but it is only because each group has grown and no longer has to share quite as many resources.) Holly’s Place gets grant money for spay/neuter, and the shelter gets the word out for us. (Years later, AHS now has volunteers who are getting their own S/N grant money as well.) Shelter volunteers have helped me scoop litter boxes and get photos while we’ve been busy working on grants. And I have taken care of the shelter for entire days, including feeding and cleaning. It is a lot harder to be critical if we actually get into each other’s poop-scooping shoes.
There have been times that I have done something that has made them a bit nervous or skeptical. And there have been times I’ve left the shelter in tears, beside myself with grief over a miscommunication that resulted in the euthanasia of an animal I wanted to save. Thankfully, from the beginning, I had a shelter contact I would call and spill my emotions to. Cheryl, who was the adoptions coordinator for the shelter, would always hear me out, and then calmly explain the shelter’s perception of the same issue. I have no doubt that she was also running interference for me with the shelter employees. We cannot read each other’s minds and if we don’t ask questions, we will never be able to understand each other. And the bottom line is that usually, it’s not the rescue’s fault or the shelter’s fault-it’s the part of the population who are foisting their responsibilities off on a few already overburdened individuals.
Tons of little things have come up between then and now, and I’ve continued to call Cheryl. In fact, I decided that I want Holly’s Place to always have a shelter person on the board as a shelter Liaison. So we do, and it is through this person that we communicate every question. And it really saves a lot of grief. I think, in fact, that shelters should probably have a rescue liason as well, so that they can get their perspective on issues.
If all rescue groups did things alike, if we were all under the same pressures in every community, maybe we’d understand why we do the things we do. But we are not. And communication is what fosters cooperation. We have to ask ourselves and each other the hard questions. And we have to remember when answering questions that it doesn’t mean your abilities or knowledge are being questioned. It just means that we are not alike in every circumstance and situation, and that someone is trying to understand what you do. We need to view the animal welfare community more as a large classroom, meant for questions and answers, brainstorming, alternative theories, and trial and error. Having shelter and rescue liaisons is one way of ensuring that we can get answers to our questions without offending someone.
If everything we do really is for the animals, as so many of us are fond of saying, then we will begin to communicate and cooperate with one another. We will foster new relationships with other rescuers, individuals, private groups, and shelters alike. We will call each other and return each other’s calls, and we will try to sound more friendly than frazzled when we do. And hopefully these relationships will lead to strong alliances where we can come together on large projects like education and spay neuter and share volunteers and other resources.
Obviously, each group has a different vision for their mission. And we may absolutely hate the way one group approaches an individual issue. And if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that animal people really can be strange and stubborn. But surely we can find some common ground for the animals. Surely we can do what most of us learned in pre-school-to share.
Start talking to animal people in your own community. Start by looking around to see if you have any extra supplies stock-piled that you can share and give them a call. Consider meeting with them to discuss shared goals and possibly even education or spay/neuter programs. If you think you may have burned some bridges somewhere along the line, forget about it and call anyway, because it’s the animals who suffer when we let our priorities get mixed up.
Update: We now have two different listservs. The KYAWA is now used for all animal-related information( including conferences and legislation), except for actual rescue and transport messages. This keeps the KYAWA low-volume so more people can be members. However, we have the KYARTA that is specifically for rescue and transport messages. Both listservs can be subscribed to from the home page of www.kyawa.org